Foreign Students Face Challenges

Homesickness, language barrier confront international students

Mihaela Pacurar ’06 remembers how hard it was to fit in during her freshman year here.

A foreign student from Romania, Pacurar recalls that everyone around her related to each other easily, “forming small communities.”

“As an international student you might feel that you couldn’t really be a part of any of these communities—what you left behind is still with you,” she says.

Pacurar is one of the 545 international students at the College, who make up about 8.31 percent of the undergraduate population—a number that has steadily risen over the last decade.

When these international students arrive as freshmen, many have their own unique concerns: homesickness that reaches beyond American borders and language differences that are constant reminders of living in a foreign land.

“Everyone in America asks ‘how are you?’ but they don’t really mean it and you feel that if you started explaining, no one really wants you to explain it,” says Pacurar.

International students are more hesitant than other students to seek help, according to a report released by the Student Support and Assessment Committee of the University Student Health Coordinating Board in July 2002.

“Misunderstandings about the American system of health care and services offered by the University Health Services, as well as some isolated incidents of insensitive treatment, appear to be discouraging some international students from seeking medical care,” the report reads. “Adapting to American culture and our educational system is stressful and international students may be reluctant to seek help in a timely manner.”

At the College, the Harvard International Office provides mainly administrative support for these students, while the Woodbridge Society for International Students assigns upperclass mentors to help international students with adjusting to college life and America.

There are no current counseling services specific to international students beyond these two groups, despite the report that came out more than two years ago.

BEING INTERNATIONAL

Ekua K. Nkyekyer ’07, who arrived from Ghana, says “you can’t always put your finger on what exactly is different about being here, but you can sense it.”

Undergraduates from abroad need to deal with a different education system, language barriers and being far away from home.

“It’s really difficult because everyone expects you to be alright after the first week of school,” says Woodbridge President Lukasz Strozek ’05, who is from Poland. “Homework every week, midterms, some people are not used to that.”

“In a lot of countries,” says Snezhana B. Zlatinova ’07, who is from Bulgaria but whose family lives in Beijing, “you’re not expected to speak up; you’re expected to be more modest.”

Zlatinova chairs Woodbridge’s support committee, which runs the mentor program and oversees the three-day Freshman International Program (FIP).